Springfield seeks to spur south side development

Springfield city leaders want more businesses to come to the south side and hope to spur that with zoning code changes on South Limestone Street, one of the city’s busiest corridors.

The changes could remove barriers for developers to locate a business or construct a new building near Interstate 70 and Ohio 72, said Stephen Thompson, Springfield planning, zoning and code administrator.

It’s one of the main entryways into the city, he said. The corridor sees about 20,000 cars per day.

“We want to remove as much of the bureaucratic red tape as we can,” he said. “We’re trying to foster development people want and not just what the market thinks is best for the neighborhood.”

The zoning on the South Limestone is a hodge podge, ranging from commercial highway uses to residential. For example, a community highway classification allows for automobile and truck-oriented uses, such as a gas station or restaurant, but not a retail store or an office building.

The corridor also includes an urban commercial overlay district that’s very limiting.

“It’s unusual for a commercial corridor,” Thompson said.

It could be rezoned to community commercial district to allow for more flexible uses. The also could also expand the commercial highway classification to include more uses. Most of the residential properties won’t change, Thompson said.

The area south of Leffel Lane may be rezoned to commercial highway, Thompson said.

A public meeting was held last month to discuss the changes in response to residents expressing concerns about why development is going elsewhere, Mayor Warren Copeland said. The nearby interstate is the commercial draw for the area, he said.

“The hope is that this would open up some more possibilities, but (zoning) won’t solve the whole problem,” Copeland said. “Other things have to occur, but this seemed like a logical step to open up some possibilities for commercial development.”

While several property owners attended, the city could host another public meeting with them to discuss possible changes. The zoning code changes would also have to be approved by the Springfield City Planning Board, the Central CEDA Regional Planning Commission of Clark County and the Springfield City Commission.

Recently, new Dunkin’ Donuts and Burger King locations have been built on South Limestone.

The Chamber of Greater Springfield is supportive of the plan to make it easier for investment to occur along South Limestone, said Horton Hobbs, vice president for economic development.

“When you look at the area, there’s potential confusion in what you can and can’t do,” Hobbs said. “To clean that up and make it very consistent from an aesthetic standard and development standard over time has the ability to change how that corridor looks and functions. It’s just one step necessary for the proactive redevelopment of that corridor.”

Earlier this year, a retail study performed by Equity showed something needed to be done about the inconsistent zoning on South Limestone Street. With investments taking place around the corridor, including the $11.3 million renovation at Springfield High School, as well as strengthening neighborhoods and the planned I-70 widening, now is the perfect time for it.

“I heard nothing but positive comments, but we’ve got to do it with the neighborhoods who are directly affected,” Hobbs said.

The rezoning makes sense, said Copeland, a south side resident.

“I’d like to see all the development possible there and I understand why the people who live there feel the development goes elsewhere,” the mayor said. “On the other hand, we can’t make retail go where retail doesn’t think it can make money — that’s the problem.”

As development has moved toward Bechtle Avenue, people have left the south side, said Brian Keith, the VISTA leader with the Springfield Promise Neighborhood. He organized a group of residents to speak at the meeting last month. The changes could lead to more growth, competition to improve the current stores and bring back pride to Springfield, he said.

“We have a lot of blight. With that change, it could help economic development and help the neighborhood grow,” said Keith, who also maintains the Auburn J. Tolliver Sr. Community Peace Garden on the corner of South Limestone Street and Prairie Avenue.

Residents typically drive across town to shop, longtime south side resident Veronica Leech said.

“That’s bad for the residents on this side of town because there are a lot of hard-working people who can’t get across town to do that,” she said.

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